Claire Lomas, who was paralysed from the chest down in a horse riding accident five years ago, is to finish her London Marathon today after 16 gruelling days walking the route in a bionic suit.
Despite her heroic efforts which have raised over £85,000 for Spinal Research so far, Claire won't receive a medal from the Virgin London Marathon team or appear on the official results table due to rules specifying that competitors must complete the race on the same day.
Her mission has seen support from some of the UK's greatest athletes, with four-times Olympic Gold Medal winner Sir Matthew Pincent writing a message of support after walking some of the route with Lomas (see thumbnail 1 below). Former tennis ace Tim Henman, Seb Coe, Claire Balding, Ben Fogle and Gabby Logan also joined the line-up of celebrities walking with Lomas.
32-year-old Lomas was injured in a horse riding incident in 2007, colliding with a tree and suffering a T4 spinal injury leaving her paralysed from the chest down. She is completing the 26.2-mile route with the help of an exoskeleton ReWalk suit, developed in the US and being trialled internationally. The suit costs approximately $50,000, for which Lomas has been raising funds herself. She has seen wide support in doing so and has set up her own jewellery design business to add to the funds.
Lomas, who has a one-year-old girl, Maisie, took her first steps in the ReWalk suit on 23 January. She completed 2.25 miles on her first day of the Marathon, cheered on by the crowds. Despite encouragement to forgo the rules and award Lomas a medal, the Virgin London Marathon team is to stand by its cut-off times which it says "are in fact generous compared to most other races".
The organisers met up with Spinal Research informing them of the policy before Lomas' entry was accepted, a spokesperson for the Marathon said.
"Finisher medals will be given only to finishers who cross the finish line in the Mall up until 6pm on raceday, that is 8 hours 15 minutes after the mass start at 09.45am," they advised.
"This is not a just a question of runners who are in the 'slow' category. Each year we have hundreds of runners who drop out of the race during the day because they feel they are unable physically to continue. On some occasions they then wish return the next day and complete the course for their own satisfaction. They are in the same position as a slow runner who completes only part of the course on the day and then returns later to finish. We have no way of verifying that they have in fact completed the event.
"In addition, we are only able to take responsibility for the health and welfare of people who complete the event on the day. We cannot say that a competitor is still officially competing in the London Marathon the day after unless we are also able to take responsibility for ensuring their safety and wellbeing (providing water, health care etc) and this we are unable to do after the medical and other volunteers are no longer there."